JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A breakdown of the first week of free agency for the Jacksonville Jaguars:
Most significant signing: The Jaguars’ pass rush has not been very effective or consistent over the past five seasons, so adding defensive end Calais Campbell was a great move. Campbell, who has 56.5 sacks in his nine NFL seasons, has recorded at least five sacks in each of the past eight seasons. During that stretch he has had five seasons in which he had seven or more sacks, including a career-high nine in 2013 and eight last season. He has also been remarkably durable, missing only six games in his career. Campbell brings a vocal, veteran leadership element to the Jacksonville defense that has been hard to find in the locker room. Paul Posluszny is a quiet, lead-by-example player, and the team recently cut nose tackle Roy Miller, who was a slightly more vocal leader than Posluszny.
Most significant loss: It’s hard to find a spot where the Jaguars cut a player or lost one via free agency and didn’t upgrade, but if we’re using that as the criteria, then it would have to be tight end Julius Thomas. He didn’t make the kind of major impact the Jaguars hoped when they signed him two years ago (76 catches, 736 yards, nine TDs combined in two seasons), which is why they traded him to Miami. However, the Jaguars now have no one on the roster who can fill his role as a pass-catching tight end. Ben Koyack and Neal Sterling filled in during the latter part of 2016 after Thomas went on injured reserve and caught 22 passes for 185 yards and one touchdown, but they certainly didn’t worry defenses or create red-zone mismatches. The Jaguars didn’t address this spot during the first week of free agency but are expected to tap into what is a deep tight end class in the draft.
Player they should have signed: It’s more of a position than a specific player, but the Jaguars should have addressed guard. Though it would have entailed making him the highest-paid guard in the NFL in terms of annual salary ($12 million) and included a hefty guarantee ($31.5 million), Kevin Zeitler would have been an excellent addition. Granted, $12 million is a lot of money, but the Jaguars certainly have the salary-cap space and he would have significantly upgraded the weakest position on their offensive line. The Jaguars just didn’t want to spend that much on a guard, which is understandable, especially for one who hasn’t made a Pro Bowl. There were other (cheaper) options, though: T.J. Lang ($9.5 million annually/$19 million guaranteed), Ron Leary ($9 million/$18.65 million) and Larry Warford ($8.5 million/$17 million).
What’s next: The Jaguars brought in running back Latavius Murray (who agreed to terms with the Vikings on Thursday morning) and defensive tackle Dontari Poe for visits earlier this week, so it’s clear the team is still actively working to sign players. With the exception of Poe, however, expect the Jaguars to focus on lower-tier free agents to boost the team’s depth and create more competition. Now the attention turns to the draft, and the Jaguars’ signings give a clearer picture as to their needs. A running back is clearly in play at No. 4 overall. So is a pass-rusher such as Solomon Thomas or even another defensive lineman such as Jonathan Allen, who can play multiple spots. It’s too high to take an offensive lineman, but expect the Jaguars to address that area in the top half of the draft.
Overall grade: A. Even though the Jaguars failed to address the offensive line in free agency, the work GM Dave Caldwell and executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin did warrants an A. Campbell fills a big void on and off the field and will help young rushers Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr. A.J. Bouye pairs with Jalen Ramsey to give the Jaguars one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL. Safety Barry Church is versatile enough to play near the line of scrimmage and in coverage, which will allow the Jaguars to play interchangeable safeties with Tashaun Gipson. Those additions to a defense that also includes defensive tackle Malik Jackson, linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack and nose tackle Abry Jones should make it hard for opposing offenses to have much success.